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Leaders ARE; Are you?

Identity Crisis

It's not only the knowledge you carry around in your head. More important to your effectiveness as a leader is your character ? who you ARE. In an interview of Harvard Business School Professor, Scott A. Snook, conducted by, Harvard Business School, Working Knowledge Senior Editor Martha Lagace, they exposed a truth that will help you guide your leadership development program.

The main thrust of this interview is how effective the Army has been in transforming the professional identity of its leaders after the end of the Cold War. Professor Snook explained what created the need for a transformation. The end of the Cold War brought about an "identity crisis" for the Army. It was no longer in a "bipolar world (that) had shaped a very strong and static sense of professional identity," he explained.

"Such an identity crisis manifested itself in a variety of symptoms: low morale, high turnover, waning commitment, missed recruiting goals, and officer retention nightmares."

Character: Most important AND Most Challenging to Develop

One of the highlights of the research is that the character of a person is not only the most important "component of leader development," but also, "the most challenge(ing)." In order for the Army to re-align the professional identity of its leaders, and arguably solve the negative manifestations of the crises, the hard, high-payoff work had to be focused on leader character.

The negative results of the identity crisis are challenges in the civilian sector also. We experience and fear low morale, high turnover and waning commitment. We fight with it every day, though leader identity is not typically cited as the cause. It goes without saying that leadership should be considered the source of all good and conversely the lack of it a factor in all negative. In order to increase the positive, which for corporate America comes in the form of higher profit margins and a more cohesive and pleasant work atmosphere, strong consideration needs to be given to Snook's suggestion. "Our contention (is) that the real leverage in developing leaders has to do with the BE component."

The BE component is explained as the, "who you ARE." The paper uses BE and character interchangeably. This, of course, is our key area of focus for groups like Leading Concepts who get beyond the academic into the actual immersion experience of leader and team development.

Snook went on to say, first, "we build our understandings of ourselves from our experiences. Second, we progress through a finite series of universal and progressively more complex stages in how we construct our understanding."

Experience For Change

As we dig into this idea of leader development and getting to the heart of it through a concentration on character, these two areas deserve more attention. It is interesting to see how our experiences have to be progressively more complex. It has been a trend, perhaps a plateau in civilian leadership development that has kept us from designing meaningfully complex learning vehicles. I believe that the reason is due to a concentration on the complexity instead of the experience. An experience is infinitely more complex than the most difficult concept. Simply add up the number of senses involved in a walk through the woods verses a day in a classroom.

The properly designed and guided experiential leadership development course will go much farther to influencing the character of a person than will a stack of the most deeply researched papers. To acknowledge the order of accomplishment, the deeply researched papers must precede the properly designed and guided course.

Professor Snook's "research has several implications for organizations and those interested in leadership development."

"Adhering to a traditional learning model is fine if you are primarily interested in improving your employees' knowledge and skills. However, should you decide, as we did, that the leverage lies much deeper, in the BE component, be prepared to think differently about what development really means and how to go about measuring and influencing it."

"I am currently studying how both life experiences and designed interventions contribute to our development as leaders. At this point it seems clear that it's not only the nature of the experience itself, but rather a complex interaction of an individual's readiness beforehand and sense-making afterwards that ultimately determines how much impact such events or programs will have on one's development."


The lessons of Professor Snook's research were taken from the success that he observed in over 10 years of the Army's transition from a Cold-War institution to a highly flexible, service-oriented and powerful organization ready for undetermined conflicts of the future. For everyone who downplays the power of this value (soft-skill) training, we have seen the ROI a thousand times over on our televisions over the past several years.

Without this training and development in such a purposeful and planned way, the victories in Afghanistan and Iraq would not have been possible and the loss of life and resources would have been much greater. Soldiers have always been able to shoot straight. They've had the technical abilities, as do your workforce. The difference between success and failure comes in the ability of the leader to activate that ability in conjunction with others in the team towards a common goal.

Crisis Free?

Notice that the Army undertook this transformation a decade prior to their need. They were forward thinking enough to know that their need for this enhanced flexibility would be necessary during some future conflict. Granted, the Army always knows that there is a next crisis. Don't you?! Are you looking at today and thinking that everything is fine, or are you looking down the road to the next crisis?

The Army was successful in transforming the professional identity of its members because it focused on character development through experiential training.

Find the full interview "How the U.S. Army Develops Leaders" at

To learn more about how immersion team building and leadership training can help you visit:

Copyright 2005 Brace E. Barber

Brace E. Barber works extensively with Leading Concepts, Inc. in the field of immersion soft-skill training with a focus is on how to develop leaders, who are prepared for and can succeed under stressful circumstances. He is the author of the book No Excuse Leadership.

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